17 Philippine Folk Dances That Keep the Country's Traditions Alive

There are so many other ways to tell stories than just with words. See how the Philippines expresses their past stories through these traditional folk dances.

Updated January 20, 2024
Beautiful filipina wearing a festival costume

Movement, just like storytelling, is one of the oldest forms of human expression. From the well-known national dance the Tinikling, which pays homage to the movements of a much-loved bird, to dances that reflect elements of daily Philippine life, Philippine folk dances all offer a beautiful glimpse into the country's rich heritage. Get a taste of the Philippines' traditions with this eye-catching choreography. 

Traditional Philippine Folk Dances 

The Philippines, like so many cultures, has a vast catalog of folk dances that have been passed down from generation to generation. Explore the country's diverse regions through these folk dances and see just how each one puts their own personal spin on it. 

1. The Itik-Itik

The Itik-Itik is an iconic dance with steps that mimic the way a duck walks, as well as the way it splashes water on its back to attract a mate. According to legend, the dance was created by a woman named Kanang who choreographed the steps while dancing at a baptismal party. The other guests copied her movements, and everyone liked it dance so much that it's been passed down ever since.

2. The Tinikling

If you recognize a Filipino dance, it's probably the Tinikling, due in large part to the fact that it's The Philippines' national dance. The dance's movements imitate how the tikling bird moves as it walks around through the tall grass and between tree branches. What makes the dance so visually striking is that the dance itself creates the rhythm thanks to a set of bamboo poles being struck against one another. 

The dance is composed of three basic steps which include singles, doubles, and hops. It looks similar to playing jump rope or double dutch, except that the dancers perform the steps around and between the bamboo poles. Soon enough, the dance becomes impossibly fast until someone makes a mistake and the next set of dancers takes a turn.

Related: Dance Steps for 6 Traditional Filipino Dances

3. The Sayaw sa Bangko

The Sayaw sa Bangko would put even the most limber dancers to the test as it's performed on top of a narrow bench. Dancers need keep their balance as they go through a series of movements which include some jaw-dropping acrobatics. You can trace this dances roots back to the Pangapisan, Lingayen, and Pangasinan areas. 

4. The Binasuan

The Binasuan is an entertaining dance that's usually performed at festive social occasions like weddings and birthdays. Dancers carefully balance three half-filled glasses of rice wine on their heads and hands as they gracefully spin and roll on the ground. The dance originated in Bayambang in the Pangasinan province, and though it's usually performed alone, it can also become a competition between several dancers.

5. The Pandanggo sa Ilaw

The Pandanggo sa Ilaw is similar to a Spanish Fandango, though it's performed while balancing three oil lamps — one on the head, and one in each hand. It's a lively dance that originated on Lubang Island. The music is in 3/4 time and is usually accompanied by castanets, hinting at the dances' colonial influence. 

6. The Pandanggo Oasiwas

The Pandanggo Oasiwas is similar to the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, and is typically performed by fishermen to celebrate a good catch. In this version, the lamps are placed in cloths or nets and swung around as the dancers circle and sway.

7. The Maglalatik

The Maglalatik is a mock war dance that depicts a fight over coconut meat, a highly-prized food. The dance is broken into four parts: two devoted to the battle and two devoted to reconciling. The male dancers wear coconut shells as part of their costumes, and they slap them in rhythm with the music. The Maglalatik is danced in the religious procession during the fiesta of Biñan as an offering to San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.

8. The Kuratsa

The Kuratsa is a traditional three-part courtship dance and is often performed at weddings and other social occasions.  The couple first performs a waltz, then as the music sets a faster pace, the man pursues the woman around the dance floor in a chase. To finish, the music picks up to an even faster tempo as the man wins over the woman with his mating routine.

9. La Jota Moncadeña

The La Jota Moncadeña is adapted by the Filipinos from an old Spanish dance. It's a combination of Spanish and Ilocano dance steps set to Spanish music and castanets. While a more solemn version of this dance sometimes accompanies funeral processions, it's more often performed at celebrations.

10. The Kappa Malong-Malong

The Kappa Malong-Malong is a Philippine dance with signfiicant Muslim influence. The malong is a tubular garment, and the dance essentially shows the many ways it can be worn. 

Need to Know

Since men and women wear malongs in different styles, there are two separate choreographies for this folk dance.  

11. The Habanera Botolena

The Habanera Botolena is a strongly flamenco-influenced dance that comes from Botolan, Zambales. It combines Filipino and Spanish steps, and is a popular dance at weddings. And in some situations, it's also considered used as a courting dance. 

12. The Pantomina

The Pantomina (also known as the Dance of the Doves) mimics the courtship between doves. Naturally, it's most often used as a courtship dance between the couples that perform it. This dance is an important part of the Sorsogon Kasanggayahan Festival held each October, where it's mainly performed by the elders of the community.

13. The Cariñosa

The Cariñosa is a dance where you let your body do the talking. Dancers make a number of flirtatious movements as they hide behind fans or handkerchiefs and peek out at one another. At it's heart, this dance is all about embracing a courtship between two sweethearts.

14. The Surtido

Surtido — aptly meaning "assortment" — is a square dance that combines French, Spanish, and Mexican dance influences. Traditionally, the Surtido is performed by a head couple accompanied by two other couples who lead all the dancers through various formations. Keeping in line with the western infleunces, it bears a strong resemblance to the old-fashioned quadrille.

15. The Singkil

The Singkil is a dance traditionally performed by single women to capture potential sutiors' attention. Dancers perform a series of graceful movements as they step in and out from between bamboo poles which are rhythmically clapped together. Fans and scarves highlight their movements and add a little extra pizazz to an already beautiful dance. 

16. The Polkabal

The Polkabal is composed of nine different steps which include various movements such as fluttering, stepping heel-to-toe, a reenactment of a bull fight, and even a leisurely walk. Because of these western standard movements, you can easily see it's European influences. 

17. The Magkasuyo

The Magkasuyo is a variation of the balse — the one-two-three graceful triple meter that Filipino traditional dance borrowed from the Spanish waltz. It is a formal series of close-step-close movements with a couple facing each other in a courtship configuration.

Balse incorporates German and Spanish influence, but the Magkasuyo is the specific invention of Quezon province, a large farming and fishing region southeast of Manila with a rich tradition of outside influences, including Spanish, Malay, and Muslim. A popular song Magkasuyo Buong Gabi (Lovers for the Night) expands on the romantic nature of the dance.

Folk Dances Are Where History & Art Collide 

The arts play an important role in Filipino culture by preserving their traditions for future generations to see. Whether you'd like to get in touch with your own heritage or want to explore other cultures outside of your own, Filipino folk dances are a great place to start. 

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17 Philippine Folk Dances That Keep the Country's Traditions Alive